A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi [in Booklist]
Already a best-selling fantasy YA author (the Shatter Me series), Tahereh Mafi firmly roots herself in familiar reality with her latest, a can’t-turn-away timely story about teens falling in love despite intolerant peer pressure, difficult family situations, and vast cultural divides. Sixteen-year-old Shirin has switched schools so many times she “can’t keep their names straight anymore.” Her family’s constant relocations are supposed to make their lives better, but as a headscarf-wearing Muslim Persian American in 2002, blending in is impossible.
Now in her third high school in two years, she’s again accosted by ignorance, bigotry, and racism; silent withdrawal is her best response, knowing her “anger would grip both sides of [her] open mouth and rip [her] in half.” And then she meets Ocean, and his determination to connect slowly wears her down, with both bitter consequences and giddy rewards.
With steely resolve, Priya Ayyar reads through the rage, indifference, and desperation, imbuing Mafi’s story with the exact sense of suffocation Shirin feels as she’s othered, questioned, and attacked for being American. Ayyar agilely shifts from patronizing adult to breathless teen, seething coach to bullied student, haughty critic to defensive victim. The listening is hardly easy, but like the story itself, it both enlightens and entertains. Benefits prove plenty.
Readers: Young Adult